Seventh Regional Rule of Law Forum for South East Europe

On 16 and 17 October 2020, the AIRE Centre and Civil Rights Defenders hosted the Seventh Regional Rule of Law Forum for South East Europe. The Forum comprised of a central conference bringing together the President of the European Court of Human Rights, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, and judges and former judges of the European Court of Human Rights. Meanwhile, representatives from across the region met at national working hubs in Belgrade, Podgorica, Pristina, Sarajevo, Skopje, Tirana and Zagreb, where attendees included presidents and judges of supreme and constitutional courts, ombudspersons, government agents before the Strasbourg Court, representatives of judicial centres/academies, representatives of NGOs, and prominent legal experts from the region. The topic of the Forum was Covid-19 and the rights protected by the European Convention on Human Rights.

Welcome and introduction to the Forum

Speaker: Biljana Braithwaite, Western Balkans Programme Director, the AIRE Centre

As the nature and the impact of the pandemic continue to evolve, and measures to contain the spread of Covid-19 remain in place across Europe, it has become clear that judicial responses to the questions which have arisen during the pandemic so far, will also help to shape States’ responses to the pandemic going forward. It is therefore even more essential that those dealing with questions relating to the pandemic work collectively to understand what the ECHR requires of Member States in such an exceptional situation and what it means to uphold the rule law during a crisis situation.”

Welcome and introduction to the Forum

Speaker: Goran Miletić, Director for Europe, Civil Rights Defenders

This pandemic is a threat to the wellbeing of individuals and society unseen in the past several decades. It emphasizes the need for reaching a delicate balance in protecting individual human rights and public health.

The ECHR and the Pandemic – Rule of Law as the Lodestar of the Convention System

Speaker: Robert Spano, President of the European Court of Human Rights

[The rule of law is] inherent to all the Articles of the European Convention on Human Rights. It is the Convention’s guiding star, a ‘loadstar’. It constitutes the legal and moral foundation of the Court’s work along with the fundamental principles of democracy and human rights.”

Upholding Human Rights in Times of a Public Health Crisis

Speaker: Dunja Mijatović, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights

The health crisis has laid bare and exacerbated long-standing inequalities in the enjoyment of human rights. It is high time to bridge these gaps and harness the power of human rights as an effective antidote for society as a whole.”

Convention rights affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and by States’ responses to the pandemic, including a discussion of the positive and negative obligations on States

A discussion surrounding the positive obligations on States under Article 2 (the right to life) and Article 3 (the prohibition of torture, inhuman and degrading treatment) in the context of the pandemic and the aspects of Article 5 (the right to liberty and security) and Article 2 of Protocol No.4 (the right to freedom of movement) which are engaged by the pandemic. The panel discussion also covered the challenges to the proper functioning of the judiciary during a pandemic and the possible ways to ensure compliance with Article 6 (the right to a fair trial) in spite of these challenges.

Moderators: Judge Tim Eicke and Biljana Braithwaite

Panellists: Ledi Bianku (former Judge), Judge Jovan Ilievski, Judge Ivana Jelić, Judge Paul Lemmens

Convention rights affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and by States’ responses to the pandemic, including a discussion of the positive and negative obligations on States (continuation)

A discussion of the ways in which the rights to private life, freedom of religion, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, education, property and free elections are affected by the pandemic and how the protection of these (and other) rights might be secured throughout the pandemic and beyond through adherence to the principles of legality and proportionality.

Moderator: President Robert Spano

Panellists: Judge Darian Pavli, Judge Anja Seibert-Fohr, Judge Tim Eicke, Judge Faris Vehabović, Mirjana Lazarova Trajkovska (former judge) 

Overview of the situation in the Western Balkans

Presentations from the city hubs in Belgrade, Podgorica, Pristina, Sarajevo, Skopje, Tirana and Zagreb reflecting on the main challenges to human rights posed by the pandemic in their respective jurisdictions.

Future challenges in the protection of human rights – a discussion in light of relevant ECHR jurisprudence

Responses from the panel to some of the key issues and questions which arose from the regional discussions and presentations, summarising some of the key legal challenges which have arisen throughout the pandemic so far and those which might arise in the future. 

Moderator: Ledi Bianku, former Judge at the European Court of Human Rights and Associate Professor, University of Strasbourg

Panellists: Judge Paul Lemmens, Judge Ivana Jelić, Judge Anja Seibert-Fohr, Mirjana Lazarova Trajkovska (former Judge)

Closing remarks

Conclusions from the Forum presented by President Robert Spano, Biljana Braithwaite and Goran Miletić. 

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The Rule of Law Platform for Western Balkans provides comprehensive insight into the rule of law and protection of individual rights in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.